Cablegate: South African Technology Helps Iran Mine Copper

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive But Unclassified. Please handle accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: Mintek, the South African state-owned
minerals processing research institution, has entered into
an agreement with the National Iranian Copper Industries
Company (NICICO) to construct a USD 3-4 million heap bio-
leaching pilot plant in Sarcheshmeh, Iran. Construction
should begin before the end of the year. If the pilot
plant proves successful, it could lead to the use of Mintek
heap bio-leaching technology to produce copper from low-
grade ore elsewhere in the world. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Mintek's Biotechnology Division manager Dr. Tony
Pinches told us that Mintek had been working with the
NICICO for three years to determine whether its copper ores
were amenable to Mintek's heap bio-leaching technology.
Pinches explained that while Mintek's technology offered a
general solution to processing low-grade copper ore, it was
especially suited for chalcopyrite (a sulfide), for which
there was currently no economic treatment. With its many
low-grade chalcopyrite deposits, Iran seemed the natural
choice for a pilot-plant. Sarcheshmeh is the site of one
of the world's largest low-grade copper mines, with a total
ore reserve of 1.2 billion tons at an average grade of 0.7
percent copper.

3. (SBU) NICICO and Mintek will construct and operate two
or three heap-leach pads at Sarcheshmeh, each capable of
handling approximately 20 kilotons of low-grade copper ore.
The copper-bearing solution derived from the leached ore
will be treated by solvent extraction before being fed to
the existing electro-winning facility to produce pure
copper metal. Test results so far have been promising.
Construction of the USD 3-4 million plant should begin
before the end of the year. Pinches told us that the pilot
plant would take two years to build, after which NICICO
would have to decide whether to build a commercial plant.

4. (SBU) According to Mintek's agreement with NICICO,
NICICO will acquire the exclusive right to Mintek heap bio-
leaching technology in Iran as well as for any project
where it holds at least a 10 percent stake. Mintek retains
all other technology rights. If successful, Mintek's heap
bio-leaching technology could find broad application in the
international copper-mining industry, making the mining of
many more copper deposits commercially viable and adding to
world supply and reserves during a period of rising demand.


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